“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” said Jacques Yves Cousteau. True isn’t it? Many a time we so easily forget how much dependent we are on water. We say that food, clothes, and shelter are our basic necessities, completely forgetting that if not water, none of these would be in existence. And yet we are so hell-bent on making it toxic for us, so much so that the due to the amount of pollution we are causing is ultimately affecting the purest form of water that will reach us. Acid Rain.
So what is acid rain?
Acid rain is rain or any other type of precipitation that is unusually acidic, meaning that it has elevated levels of hydrogen ions. Acid rain is caused by emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which react with water molecules in the atmosphere to produce acids. Acid rain also called acid precipitation or acid deposition, precipitation possessing a pH of about 5.2 or below primarily produced from the emissions of human activities, mostly the combustion of fossil fuels. In acid-sensitive landscapes, acid deposition can reduce the pH of surface waters and lower biodiversity. Acid rain is a result of air pollution. When any type of fuel is burnt, lots of different chemicals are produced. The smoke that comes from a fire or the fumes that come out of a car exhaust doesn’t just contain the sooty grey particles that you can see – they also contain lots of invisible gases that can be even more harmful to our environment. Power stations, factories, and cars all burn fuels and therefore they all produce polluting gases. Some of these gases (especially nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide) react with the tiny droplets of water in clouds to form sulphuric and nitric acids. The rain from these clouds then falls as very weak acid – which is why it is known as “acid rain”.
Why is acid rain caused?
There are natural and man-made sources that cause acid rain. Human activities leading to chemical gas emissions such as sulphur and nitrogen are the primary contributors to acid rain. The activities include air pollution sources emitting sulphur and nitrogen gases like factories, power generation facilities, and automobiles. In particular, the use of coal for electrical power generation is the biggest contributor to gaseous emissions leading to acid rain. Automobiles and factories also release high scores of gaseous emissions on a daily basis into the air, especially in highly industrialized areas and urban regions with significant car traffic. These gases react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form various acidic compounds such as sulphuric acid, ammonium nitrate, and nitric acid. As a result, these areas experience exceedingly high amounts of acid rain. The existing winds blow these acidic compounds over large areas across borders and they fall back to the ground in the form of acid rain or other forms of precipitation. Upon reaching the earth, it flows across the surface, absorbs into the soil and enters into lakes and rivers , and finally gets mixed up with seawater. The gases i.e. i.e. sulphur dioxide
(SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are primarily gases occurring from electric power generation by burning coal and responsible for acid rain. The major natural causal agent for acid rain is volcanic emissions. Volcanoes emit acid-producing
gases to create higher than normal amounts of acid rain or any other
form of precipitation such as fog and snow to an extent of affecting vegetation cover and health of residents within the surrounding.
Effects of Acid Rain
Acid rain has been shown to have adverse impacts on forests, freshwaters, and soils, killing insect and aquatic life-forms, causing the paint to peel, corrosion of steel structures such as bridges, and weathering of stone buildings and statues as well as having impacts on human health. Acid rain either falls directly on aquatic bodies or gets run off the forests, roads, and fields to flow into streams, rivers, and lakes. Over a period of time, acids get accumulated in the water and lower the overall pH of the water body. The aquatic plants and animals need a particular pH level of about 4.8 to survive. If the pH level falls below that the conditions become hostile for the survival of aquatic life.
Effect on Forests
It makes trees vulnerable to disease, extreme weather, and insects by destroying their leaves, damaging the bark, and arresting their growth. Acid rain and fog also damage forests, especially those at higher elevations. The acid deposits rob the soil of essential nutrients such as calcium and cause aluminium to be released into the soil, which makes it hard for trees to take up water. Trees‘ leaves and needles are also harmed by acids. Acid rain and fog also damage forests, especially those at higher elevations. The acid deposits rob the soil of essential nutrients such as calcium and cause aluminium to be released into the soil, which makes it hard for trees to take up water. Trees’ leaves and needles are also harmed by acids.
The effects of acid rain, combined with other environmental stressors, leave trees and plants less healthy, more vulnerable to cold temperatures, insects, and disease. The pollutants may also inhibit trees’ ability to reproduce. Besides, the widespread effects of acid rain on ecological harmony have lead to stunted growth and even death of some forests and vegetation cover.
Effect on Aquatic Environment
Acid rain either falls directly on aquatic bodies or gets run off the forests, roads, and fields to flow into streams, rivers, and lakes. Over a period of time, acids get accumulated in the water and lower the overall pH of the water body. The
aquatic plants and animals need a particular pH level of about 4.8 to survive. If the pH level falls below that the conditions become hostile for the survival of aquatic life. Acid rain tendency of altering pH and aluminium concentrations greatly affects pH concentration levels in surface water, thereby affecting fish as well as other aquatic life-forms. At pH levels below 5, most fish eggs cannot hatch. Lower pHs can also kill adult fish. Acid rain runoff from catchment areas into rivers and lakes has also reduced biodiversity as rivers and lakes become
more acidic. Species including fish, plant, and insect types in some lakes, rivers,and brooks have been reduced and some even completely eliminated owing to excess acid rain flowing into the waters. Acid rain has many ecological effects,
especially on lakes, streams, wetlands, and other aquatic environments. Acid
rain makes such waters more acidic, which results in more aluminium
absorption from the soil, which is carried into lakes and streams. That combination
makes the water toxic to crayfish, clams, fish, and other aquatic animals. Some
species can tolerate acidic waters better than others. However, in an
interconnected ecosystem, what affects some species eventually affects many
more throughout the food chain, including non-aquatic species such as birds.
Effects on Human Environment (Architecture and Buildings)
Acid deposits damage physical structures such as limestone buildings and cars. And when it takes the form of inhale-able fog, acid precipitation can cause health problems including eye irritation and asthma.
Modern buildings, cars, airplanes, steel bridges, and pipes are all affected by acid rain. Irreplaceable damage can be caused to the old heritage buildings.
Acid Rain in India
Indiaʼs economic growth has come with serious environmental costs. The large-scale industrial growth and reliance on the use of coal and crude oil distillates
like diesel have led to the acidification of the atmosphere. India enjoys the dubious distinction of releasing the maximum pollutants in the atmosphere after China. Total sulphur emissions are expected to rise from 4,400 kilo-tonnes (kt) in 1990
to 6,500 kt in 2000, 10,900 kt in 2010 and 18,500 in 2020. It is, therefore, not surprising that low pH levels have been reported from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and even the Andaman Islands. While this will not result in acid rain, the stage has been set for it, and if conditions worsen like the setting up of a highly polluting thermal power plant in the vicinity or an industrial estate there maybe acid rain. After analyzing data from 10 Indian Background Air Pollution Monitoring Stations ( bapmons ), scientists have confirmed that rain in and around these cities is getting increasingly acidic in nature. Rainfall in India is becoming increasingly acidic every passing year with increasing industrialization and transportation the days are not far when acid rain will become a regular phenomenon in India. The problems of polluting energy sources and the use of fossil fuels are very deep-rooted. Even though many plausible solutions have been recommended and much has been proposed the ability to affect real change remains a key challenge owing to the size and scale of the industrial problem.
Acid rain is going to be a major cause of our damaged ecosystem, if precautions are not taken in time, this may also lead to a huge threat to human life and the existence of living things, if the situation is not curbed soon enough
What can be done to reduce acid rain?
Restoring Damaged Environments
The use of limestone or lime, a process called liming, is a practice that people can do to repair the damage caused by acid rain to lakes, rivers, and brooks. Adding lime into acidic surface waters balances the acidity. It’s a process that has extensively been used, for instance in Sweden, to keep the water pH at optimum. Even though, liming is an expensive method and has to be done repeatedly. Furthermore, it only offers a short-term solution at the expense of solving the broader challenges of SO2 and NOx emissions and risks to human health. Nevertheless, it helps to restore and allow the survival of aquatic life forms by improving chronically acidified surface waters.
Alternative Energy Sources (Role of Technology)
Besides fossil fuels, there is a wide range of alternative energy sources that can generate electrical power. These include wind energy, geothermal energy, solar energy, hydropower, and nuclear power. Harnessing these energy sources can offer effective electrical power alternatives instead of using fossil fuels. Fuel cells, natural gas, and batteries can also substitute the use of fossil fuel as cleaner energy sources. As of today,
all energy sources have environmental and economic costs as well as benefits. The only solution is using sustainable energy that can protect the future. Individual, National/State, and International Actions
Millions of people, directly and indirectly, contribute to SO2 and NOx emissions. Mitigation of this challenge requires individuals to be more informed about energy conservation and ways of reducing emissions such as: turning off lights or electrical appliances when not using them; use public transport; use energy-efficient electrical appliances; and use of hybrid vehicles or those with low NOx emissions.
The way forward
The aforementioned lines provide solutions that individuals and businesses can take to reduce the release of pollutants that cause acid rain or severe pollution. However, governments are equally liable as polluters, since they are required to take measures to reduce fossil fuel use and setting strict air quality standards. Sustainable solutions to climate change issues like acid rain require efforts on the individual consumption choices and strict policy measures to make businesses commit to adopting cleaner energy alternatives and for individual consumers
to make less polluting choices. The onus lies on the government to create an enabling environment that makes cleaner technologies more affordable and easily available. While, economically empowering individuals who are unable to afford cleaner alternatives because of the high costs involved in acquisition, installation, and application. Serious policy measures in the form of subsidies and scalable production should be encouraged by the government to make cleaner technologies affordable and abundantly available. Proper information dissemination in order to spread and raise awareness about the harmful effects of polluting appliances on human health and the environment must be carried out in society. Such measures can help in educating, informing, and getting people to change their perception towards the use of harmful polluting agents for their economic needs. Effecting these measures would catapult the effort
towards the increased use of clean energy and reduced emission of polluting gases in the atmosphere.